Winter driving primer gripping affair

As temperatures drop and winter starts to bite, several Otago Daily Times regional reporters received some winter driving training in Wanaka in preparation for continuing to bring key coverage and photos to readers. Central Otago reporter Adam Burns relives the tears and triumphs of the day’s session.

Along the steep and snowy terrain of Cardrona Valley we advance, a trio of apprehensive reporters.

My colleague Kerrie Waterworth is at the wheel and the consequences of one lapse in judgement become apparent.

Adam Burns
Adam Burns
I have never driven in snow.

For the handful of Otago Daily Times regional reporters preparing to tackle winter coverage, this is the backdrop of a driving course held in Wanaka last week.

Oamaru reporter Hamish MacLean is no stranger to heights - or snow - being originally from Canada.

And having almost no driving experience in the South, as I anticipate the Central Otago blizzards to come, I grip the grab handle tightly and try to keep my thoughts at bay.

Regions editor Louise Scott says it is a great opportunity. For me, the jury is still out.

Naturally we are collectively content with a speed of about 20kmh.

Guiding us through the experience is driving instructor Dan Gerard, of Queenstown.

As we are the second group of hard-nosed reporters Mr Gerard has escorted up Cardrona that afternoon, I pray he has not clocked off for the day and is conducting the session on auto-pilot.

One thing in our favour is that the Cardrona road is fairly quiet, the winter season pandemonium set to start the following day.

Central Otago reporter Adam Burns practises proper winter driving techniques at Cardrona. PHOTO:...
Central Otago reporter Adam Burns practises proper winter driving techniques at Cardrona. PHOTO: HAMISH MACLEAN

Upon approaching each bend, Mr Gerard calmly urges each driver to "look as far up around the corner as you can for oncoming vehicles".

Two driver change-overs later, and we settle into a parking area off the main road.

Mr Gerard sets up the cones and we go "fishtailing" in the snow, reacting to every instruction of "left" and "right" within metres of the Cardrona cliff face.

"Keep the vehicle moving," he says.

This coaching comes thick and fast.

He tells us how to react to the powder snow, how to use the vehicle - what our tools and key resources are.

It is unnerving and exhilarating in equal doses.

Did I mention I have never driven in snow?

For the handful of Otago Daily Times regional reporters preparing to tackle winter coverage, this is the backdrop of a driving course held in Wanaka last week. Photo: Hamish MacLean
For the handful of Otago Daily Times regional reporters preparing to tackle winter coverage, this is the backdrop of a driving course held in Wanaka last week. Photo: Hamish MacLean

Earlier in the day we were prepared with a theory session on winter driving conditions and a snow-chain fitting lesson.

For the chain-fitting session, untangling the knotted chains proved to be one of the biggest hurdles.

Mr Gerard gave a clear and concise demonstration of how to put on snow chains in less than a minute per wheel.

First up, it is vital to ensure you have the right chains for your vehicle.

It was also pointed out to us that putting on chains in real-life conditions - in snow and grit and biting winds - would be a completely different proposition from our practice session with a dislodged tyre in the warmth of the Wanaka newsroom.

And it was. Everyone else managed sub-minute times for one tyre, meaning at least there was only one weak link in regional news coverage at this stage and with more practice that would be rectified.

"Colour band, left hand" was the motto Mr Gerard employed for handling chains.

Across Otago and Southland our roads can be unforgiving when Mother Nature decides to let loose. Snow and ice can be unforgiving. Photo: Hamish MacLean
Across Otago and Southland our roads can be unforgiving when Mother Nature decides to let loose. Snow and ice can be unforgiving. Photo: Hamish MacLean

While there was banter and competition between colleagues - the seriousness of winter driving was on our mind.

As a relatively fresh reporter I have not witnessed first hand the harsh reality of winter crashes - but my colleagues have.

Across Otago and Southland our roads can be unforgiving when Mother Nature decides to let loose. Snow and ice can be unforgiving.

Happily, the regional staff all made it home safely.


WINTER DRIVING

  • Increase your following distance to 6 seconds.
  • Before you reach a downhill stretch, slow down and change into a lower gear.
  • If you hit black ice, take your foot off the accelerator.
  • Accelerate smoothly and brake gently.
  • Your vehicle must have correctly fitting roadworthy snow chains.

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